a bird and a bottle

Making Prisons Less Appealing
January 17, 2007, 9:51 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, news & views, politics

It’s about time the NY Times made prisons a real issue (sorry for all the Times posts recently – they’ve had some interesting stuff) . Today, the paper published an Editorial about the practice of counting incarcerated men and women, who are disenfranchised, as residents for the purposes of voting apportionment. This means that the often rural areas in which prisons are located get more than their fair share of the votes. Prisoners are counted for the purposes of deciding how much political power one district has, but cannot vote to influence the use of that power.

The Times writes:

[T]hese towns and counties siphon an outsized portion of state and federal aid. Politicians in districts with prisons sometimes brag openly about the windfall, as they mock “constituents” who are powerless to remove them from office and are packed onto buses and driven hundreds of miles to their real homes the minute they leave the prison walls.

This practice is despicable. And, as the paper points out, the Census Bureau is aware of the problem, and should change its policies immediately — in time for the 2010 census.

What dims my optimism, both about the Times‘s coverage and about attention to the issue of prison policy in general, is that the Times ignores the logical next step. Which is this: why not consider returning to felons the right to vote. Part of the reason prison conditions are so awful in this country, and that the term criminal justice should be used only with scare quotes, is that few people who have spent significant time insides the nation’s prisons (by which I mean state and federal prisons) have any political power. They cannot vote, so nobody listens.

Unless we use our own votes to make them.


2 Comments so far
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Another form of gerrymandering? Oh, the chicanery and corruption of which only human beings are capable (shades of Bertold Brecht).

Comment by Jeff Berger

3/5 compromise also rings a bell…

Comment by professorplum

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